AFM Hidden Gem: 'Run Hide Fight' Examines a School Shooting Through an Action Movie Lens

Run Hide Fight
@Danny Fulgencio

Isabel May in 'Run Hide Fight'

Isabel May plays a teenager who fights back against a group of school shooters in Kyle Rankin's action thriller.

"I didn't want to make another Elephant or We Need to Talk About Kevin," says Kyle Rankin about his new movie, Run Hide Fight. "There are enough films that look at school shootings from the perspective of the perpetrators. I wanted to focus on the victims."

Run, Hide, Fight certainly doesn't feel like a Gus van Sant or Lynne Ramsay movie. Instead of pondering the unfathomable motives of the killers and the senselessness of school shootings, or —as with Brady Corbet's Vox Lux, how the sickening repetition of these massacres have traumatized American youth — Kyle Rankin, more boldly, and much more controversially, addresses one of the most viscerally horrific realities of modern-day life by turning it into an action movie.

"This is Die Hard in a high school," notes The Hollywood Reporter's lead critic David Rooney, echoing the majority of critics who panned the film when it first premiered, out of competition, at the Venice Film Festival earlier this year.

Run Hide Fight did look out of place among the art-house and high-brow fare of Venice. But Voltage Pictures, which is selling Run Hide Fight worldwide, can expect a warmer welcome from genre-friendly buyers at the American Film Market. As Rooney grudgingly acknowledged, the film is "slick and compulsively watchable," and Rankin, director of 2003's The Battle of Shaker Heights, "knows his way around efficient thriller construction."

Produced by Dallas-based Cinestate — whose credits include exploitation thrillers Bone Tomahawk and Dragged Across Concrete — Rankin's film wears its B-movie tropes on its sleeve, even down to the "un-killable last villain" in the final reel. But by focusing on the victims, and, in particular Zoe Hull, a shy, emotionally-traumatized 17-year-old who decides to resist, Run Hide Fight — the title comes from the advice American pupils are given in the case of a live shooter event — could play to mainstream audiences like a powerful expression of wish-fulfillment.

"I remember being in school and daydreaming about how I would fight to protect my friends from a potential shooter," Isabel May, who plays Hull, tells THR. "It's disturbing, but school shootings have always been a part of my reality, and the reality of my generation. I think we've ignored that far too long."

Rankin had been trying to make his school shooting thriller for years. He said he had some studio interest in the project before the 2018 Parkland High School massacre made the subject too toxic for the mainstream. Cinestate came on board and Rankin filmed Run Hide Fight in relative secrecy in Texas last winter.

Cinestate has had to deal with some toxic allegations of its own, connected to its relationship with producer Adam Donaghey, who was arrested this year on suspicion of sexually assaulting a minor. Donaghey was an executive producer on Run Hide Fight but it's unclear if the allegations surrounding him will have any commercial impact on the film. Donaghey's name has since been scrubbed from the credits. Rankin says he "believed Cinestate" when they say they didn't know about Donaghey's past, adding that he hopes "justice is served" in the case.

Run Hide Fight boasts a cast that includes Thomas Jane (The Mist) and Radha Mitchell (Man on Fire), but the star is clearly 19-year-old May. Best known for comedy work in Netflix's Alexa & Katie, and Young Sheldon on CBS, Run Hide Fight is her feature debut and her first starring role in a drama.

Even critics of the film have praised her turn —"there's nothing lacking in the committed performance of Hull," Rooney notes — which combines the emotional vulnerability of a scared teenager with the resilience of a victim determined to fight back.

"This could easily have become about a woman who becomes a kind of female Rambo but it's not that, she's not that, she's a teenager," says May. "Kyle [Rankin] and I wanted her to be a kid and remind you that even when she's finding something within herself to do something remarkable, she's still frightened. The entire time."